Peace activist Kinnee dies

Helen Kinnee

Helen Kinnee

Helen Kinnee, who spent most of her life advocating for peace, has died.

Kinnee, who would have turned 93 on Christmas Day, died Nov. 26 at Chico Creek Care & Rehab nursing home.

Along with friend Wilhelmina Taggart, who died in 2000, Kinnee founded the Chico Peace Endeavor, the group that since 1964 has staged a vigil at the corners of Third and Main streets in downtown Chico. A plaque on a bench near the corner bears their names, along with that of fellow activist Florence McLane.

Kinnee, who grew up in Boise where her Danish-immigrant father was mayor, held bachelor’s and master’s degrees in entomology from U.C. Berkeley and after graduating taught high school biology and typing in Exeter, Calif. There, she met and married music teacher James Kinnee.

According to the book Unstill Lives: Portraits of Northern California Women, James Kinnee caused a local stir when he and several friends, pacifist-minded and with World War II looming, applied for conscientious objector status. At the end of the year, both teachers’ contracts weren’t renewed—a thinly veiled retaliation for what was perceived as anti-patriotism.

The couple moved to Berkeley before being assigned to a “C.O” work camp, followed by New Hampshire and Iowa before settling in Chico in 1952 so James Kinnee, who died in 1982, could take a job in the music department of what is now Chico State University.

In 1960, Helen Kinnee and other activists protested the construction of a missile base near Chico. The Saturday vigils soon followed.

Kinnee is survived by two children, daughter Peggy in San Diego and Chico resident Tom Kinnee.

“She just dealt with everyone in such a great spirit that it seemed like there was no question that [advocating peace] was the right thing,” Tom Kinnee said. “She didn’t set out to be virtuous. It was just the natural way she dealt with people.”

At times, the activists were threatened by opponents, who taunted them as “Communists.”

“Over the years, I saw [positive] changes in attitudes toward my mom and her group and what they were doing,” said Kinnee, who as a child sometimes joined his mother on Third and Main and during the Vietnam War registered as a conscientious objector.

“She stopped being a leader in the organization in the 1980s, but she’d still take part in the vigil from time to time,” Kinnee said.

He added that for years his mother has not been in a mental state to follow world politics, which may have been a blessing in disguise.

“She always kept a positive attitude, believing if there were enough people who worked and thought the way she did that a change would come about slowly but surely,” Kinnee said. “I was kind of glad that she wasn’t aware of what was going on, because it seems like a rerun of so many mistakes that were made before.”

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Dec. 10 at 2:30 p.m. at the First Baptist Church on Palmetto Avenue.